INTERVIEW: Gary Numan | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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If you asked anyone on the street to sum up Gary Numan’s music, the word ‘futuristic’ would be sure to pop up. Since finding popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, Numan has been credited for pioneering electronic synth-pop in mainstream music. From his ‘android’ persona on stage to his boundary-pushing style, he’s always been a forward-looking individual.

In past decades, the concept of ‘the future’ has gone through some changes. Previously, it had been envisaged as a technological paradise, all flying cars and cures for diseases. In recent months, however, some people’s vision for humanity has taken a darker turn. Numan’s latest release, Savage (Songs From A Broken World), looks at this next stage of futuristic world-building. In his narrative, the planet has been destroyed by global warming, civilisations have collapsed and humanity has been enveloped in a battle for survival: “I started to steal ideas from a book I’ve been working on for quite some time.” He tells me. “The book is about this future world, a post-global warming world. I haven’t decided how far in the future it is – it’s way off.”

Savage… is an outward-looking musical experience, and almost the complete antithesis of its 2013 predecessor, Splinter (Songs For A Broken World), which is completely introspective. Struggles with his own mental health and changes to his family life were what fed his creativity when writing for the previous release: “I think when you sit down to write anything you tend to write about the things that are really bothering you at that moment. So at that particular time I was struggling with [depression] and trying to find a way out of it. I think it’s a natural thing to write about things like that…I think for a lot of people who write songs, there is an element of it which is therapy. As someone who doesn’t talk about problems, I do write about them.”

When it came to writing Savage…, his broken world’s most immediate influence in the real world was Trump’s election. The seismic event brought to the surface many of the worries Numan had about society, from the environment to the ostracisation of people from minority backgrounds. In his own words, “because of this planet-wide catastrophe, people simply had more important things to worry about than whose religion was better.”

Any album that you make, even albums that do incredibly well, they’re just very small steps on a much longer journey

The mysterious figure known as Ruin is at the forefront of this story. We were first introduced to this character and his world in the lead single My Name Is Ruin: “There’s this religious fanatical group that call themselves The Righteous. They are moving around doing all kinds of damage in the name of God and they come for Ruin’s family, they kill his wife and leave him for dead and they steal his daughter.” The song is haunting and dramatic; electronic music at its finest. It’s possibly most recognisable for its Middle Eastern influence, which lifts the listening experience into a new realm.

With conflicts put aside, the world becomes “one big melting pot” of eastern and western cultures. These changes are reflected in the stylistic choices of the album, from the “Middle Eastern melodies and certain instrumentation flavouring the album,” to typefaces, all in an effort to reflect this mentality that “when your life is simple can you survive until the next day, when it’s as basic and as desperate as that, and as difficult as that you probably don’t really care about people’s accents or where they come from…you just need to survive.”

Avoiding the desolate landscape as described in Savage… is a desirable concept which anyone can get on board with. Including, it appears, Numan’s then eleven year old daughter Persia, who has an incredibly important role in the album, appearing in the music videos as the daughter of this story’s main character, Ruin, and lending both her voice and her presence for the part. “She’d never done anything like that before, really. But she just gets on with it. If it needs to be done, she does it; she’s a really impressive little kid. If she wants a career doing this, she would have no trouble at all. Her talents are in many different areas. She’s got a real social conscience about her as well. She’s very bothered about animals and animal welfare, even climate change. It could be that she ends up doing something in a more scientific or humanitarian way, and doesn’t go into entertainment at all.”

Once again creating music as a catharsis, Gary Numan made the best of unfavourable situations. But I believe there’s scope for much more than that with the kind of vision he creates; the world that exists within Savage (Songs From A Broken World) has the potential to create a utopia, if it is possible for humanity to overcome their differences for the sake of survival. The message is undoubtedly subtle, but it’s one of positivity and inclusivity that, no matter how small, carries some weight.

Any album that you make, even albums that do incredibly well, they’re just very small steps on a much longer journey. Politicians are able to take giant steps with the moves that they make…artistically you make much smaller steps but you’re still contributing to a general discussion, a desire to change the way things are. I would never say what I’ve done at any time is important, but it all chips away, it all adds tiny little steps on this journey. You hope that in the small things you can do that you may be able to influence some opinion.”

The solution to averting disasters on any scale may well be made up of these tiny steps: finding your own catharsis to process negative emotions, imagining an apocalyptic world so bleak that others may take their own message for change from it, or fostering hope in future generations so that they may fix the mistakes of their predecessors. I think one thing is for certain: a dystopian nightmare never sounded so good.

Gary Numan performs at Middlesbrough Empire on Saturday 17th March.

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